Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two – can music, HD and choice help the mouse make a masterpiece?
When we first played Epic Mickey 2, we tested out its co-op mechanic, taking on Mickey’s long-forgotten precursor, Oswald, in order to solve puzzles alongside the mouse. Junction Point resurrected the rabbit as an anti-hero in the previous game, although he experienced a change of heart later on. The pair of heroes are reunited in Epic Mickey 2, but while they may share similarities, Oswald doesn’t get a brush. Instead, he’s able to bring the Cartoon Wasteland’s clapped-out contraptions back to sparking life with the aid of a magical remote control – a neat way to avoid co-op conflicts over whether the paint or thinner should be used to solve problems.
This time round, we play as Mickey, letting the AI control Oswald. For the most part he’s passive, following quietly behind us while we explore the Western-themed Disney Gulch. He’s always on hand when a machine needs zapping, however, or when he and Mickey need to link up for a Banjo-Kazooie-style joined-up floaty jump. In short, Junction Point has made an AI partner who isn’t a burden, while allowing for the combination of his and Mickey’s powers to make for more complex puzzles.
Disney Gulch itself reflects the series’ patchwork art style, a mixture of old cartoons and ramshackle attractions that capture that vintage Disney charm. We’re playing on PS3, and while Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two may be a Wii game at heart, given the paint and thinner mechanic was made for the Wii Remote, Junction Point’s bright, cartoony art style is at its vibrant best on a HD display. These are cartoon characters, after all, and as such benefit from the PS3 and 360’s extra clarity. The recently announced Wii U version could well offer both, and GamePad users will also receive a map on the touchscreen.
The Gulch serves to highlight how Junction Point has made good on its promise to offer a greater sense of consequence to your actions by affecting the surrounding environment. A river bisects the Gulch, running through the centre of the valley. Use lots of paint in order to solve the level’s puzzles and deal with its enemies – painted enemies can become temporary allies – and the river turns a beautiful bright blue. Rely on thinner in order to, say, remove the last vestiges of a ramshackle bar from the corner of the map, and the river turns into the corrosive stuff itself. It’s a simple change, but one with a tangible effect on the Gulch’s mood. And whereas the original game would see environments return to a neutral state once you left the area, levels will continue to bear the evidence of your involvement for the duration of Epic Mickey 2 – unless you choose to go back yourself and fix things the hard way, of course.
The Shadow Blot might have been defeated in the first game, but his minions return for this sequel. This foul creature puts up a stiff fight, requiring brushwork and other powers to defeat
Water features aside, the Gulch offers the same blend of simple platforming and basic puzzle solving we’re used to from Epic Mickey as we explore the surrounding environment in order to find power supplies for a broken-down train. Once we’re all aboard, we’re whisked to our first boss encounter, a fight against a dragon that’s ensconced at the centre of a doughnut-shaped platform. Our foe’s reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy 2’s Gobblegut, with his bulbous features and fiery attacks. After we thin this imposter to oblivion, our next stop is the Floatyard, a dark and twisted theme park in disrepair, which recaptures the feel of the creepy concept that Junction Point used to introduce the series.
It’s a surprisingly unsettling level for a Disney title, with giant sinister clown heads jutting awkwardly from walls, but the nature of game is unchanged. The residents of this distorted corner of the Cartoon Wasteland still have problems that only the magic brush can solve, and the solution still involves some basic combat followed by pointing the cursor at an object and deciding whether paint or thinner takes your fancy. This isn’t a problem, of course – the platforming is improved and the camera better behaved – but it does highlight how the finished game will need build on the sense of long-term consequence in its world to convince players of the impact of the choices it’s constantly inviting them to make. We hope it does, because in the Cartoon Wasteland Junction Point has crafted a world that pays tribute to Disney’s heritage while containing a life of its own.